Small Realities

Inside the mind of Lance Schonberg

Branch Santa, Part 8

“It’s a variation on the original magic that made you Santa.  A little different, a little more focused.”

The booth hummed, an oscillating pitch putting Santa in mind of 1970s science fiction.  Lights inside the booth flashed cheery colors against its walls.  He looked down atEugene.  “Different how, exactly?”

Eugene kept watching the controls.  “Well, you started out as human.  The magic imbued you with extra abilities from scratch:  the Chimney Thing, time compression, and so on.  As an elf, Frank already has some minor magic but he still needs a full set of Santa skills, just not quite the same set you have, plus he needs a size upgrade   Time compression will be important some day, but there’s an unfortunate lack of chimneys so he’ll need some kind of portable airlock instead.  Throw in gravitational considerations and everything that goes with not having an atmosphere–-you’ve got no idea how many things that changes–-and the fact that he’ll be piloting a shuttle instead of flying a sled.  Reindeer are a lot easier to learn to maneuver than a small spacecraft, let me tell you.  And then-”

“Okay, I get it.  But why, exactly, is he in a magic phone booth?”

Eugene gave his boss a sheepish grin.  “More or less because we want to keep the magic contained.  We’ve given the system every parameter we think might have any effect on things and told it to turn Frank into a Santa fit for the Moon.  Honestly Chief, we’re not exactly sure what he’s going to look like.  But we should find out in about twenty seconds.”

Santa glanced at his watch, some reflex wanting him to count down those twenty seconds, but the booth chose that moment to get a lot louder.  The hum oscillated faster with a wider pitch range with the high end pushing against Santa and the low drawing him in, trying to rock him back and forth.  He caught himself swaying in time with the pitch and stopped himself from taking a step forward.  A glance atEugeneshowed a pained expression, elfin ears probably catching sounds Santa’s couldn’t, but the elf had no problem maintaining his footing. Eugenemerely stood frowning at his monitors.  Santa specific magic.

Nodding, Santa turned his eyes back to the pulsing booth and thought he could see its walls bulge in and out now, the colors leaking through with an intensity not seen since Technicolor.  And then it stopped.  Not slowing or powering down, the oscillation ceased on an upswing and took the color flashes with it.

Eugene grumbled.   “All right.  Twenty-three seconds.”  He pushed and pulled at various controls, tapped several buttons and the booth began to rise up, retracting into the ceiling.  A bright light above and behind the figure left behind cast him in shadow.  One more switch and the light turned off to reveal the new big guy, Frank, Santa, Lunar Claus.  With two Santas around, they’d have to figure out what to call each other to avoid confusion.  Santa could see Frank in the new Santa’s face, so that would do for now.

Frank rubbed his eyes then used his thumbs to massage his temples for a few seconds.  “Wow.  That was… weird.”  The high tenor had dropped almost to a baritone.  One side of his face scrunched up.  “Is that my voice?”  He shook his head, staring at Santa with a deep frown.  “That you, Chief?”

“It is, Frank.  How do you feel?”  Santa stepped forward to take the former elf’s elbow and found it farther above the floor than his own.

“Like a college student just off a four-day bender.  Wow.”  He looked down at Santa.  Down at Santa.  “How do I look?”

“There’s a mirror on the wall behind you.  Why don’t you see for yourself?”  Santa turned his friend around by the elbow with a brief stab of sadness at the realization he wouldn’t see Frank very often anymore.

Frank let himself be turned to look in the mirror and spent more than a minute examining the reflection while Santa made a similar survey:  the same dark beard and bushy eyebrows, but bigger, so much bigger, and with rosier cheeks.  He wore a blue suit instead of red, trimmed in grey instead of white, the better to blend in with the Lunar background, Santa guessed.  Frank looked almost like a younger Santa in one of the old Victorian suits.  And the height!  Santa moved to compare their reflections.  At a guess, the man in the red suit was ten inches shorter and at least seventy-five pounds heavier.  Frank barely had a paunch!

The new Santa shook his head back and forth.  “This is not what I expected.  I thought–”

Eugenefinished the sentence for him.  “You thought you’d be a carbon copy of the big guy.  Surprise!”

Frank turned around to look at the suddenly tiny elf.  Most elves stood somewhere between waist and rib height on Santa.  Eugene, taller than most, might reach Frank’s waist.

“Physically, you’re more or less like I expected.”  The elf held up a hand and spoke a bit to the side.  “Oh, I know I what I said, Chief, and I wasn’t lying.  We didn’t know exactly what you’d look like, Frank, but I made some private guesses.  People will get taller and thinner living on the Moon.  It’s going to take generations to be really noticeable, but shouldn’t the new Santa fit his world?

“In a dim tunnel carved out of solid rock, blue and grey will blend in a lot better than red and white.” Eugene took one last look at the readings and gave a satisfied nod.  He grinned at the Santas.  “Well, Christmas is coming.”

Frank looked at Santa and sighed.  “Damn.  I really wanted the red suit.”

A laugh burst out of the big guy.  “You know, Frank, I miss the blue one, but I’d give a lot for the white suit back.”

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